When Maggie McLetchie was about 6 years old, her grandfather would engage her in conversation about the First Amendment.
Even as a child, she was enthralled with stories from a federal appeals court judge.
“I remember visiting him in his chambers and him talking to me about the Constitution,” she said.
When her grandfather, Hugh H. Bownes, died in 2003, The New York Times wrote that he was “best known for his opinions upholding free speech and individual rights.”
McLetchie, 46, has honored her grandfather’s legacy throughout her own legal career. As an attorney for the Las Vegas Review-Journal since 2012, she has fought to uncover the truth when government agencies sought to keep public records hidden, and she has aggressively defended the First Amendment rights of not just the press but all people in Nevada.
On Saturday, she received the Nevada Press Association’s First Amendment Champion award for 2018.
In announcing the award, the association said “no single Nevadan had more impact in the battle for open records and press freedoms last year.” McLetchie “won access to vital public information including autopsy reports, sexual harassment complaints, search warrant affidavits, 911 recordings, police body camera footage, courtroom evidence and dispatch logs.”
She successfully argued for records linked to a Clark County School District trustee accused of sexually harassing women, autopsy reports, human trafficking and prostitution records, and Oct. 1 shooting-related 911 recordings and officer body camera footage Las Vegas police wanted kept from the public.
“Much of the Review-Journal’s best work is directly attributable to Maggie’s success in court and the fear she puts in government entities that prefer secrecy over transparency,” said Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook, who nominated McLetchie for the honor. “I hope this award helps the public understand how valuable she is not just to journalism but to democracy itself.”
For McLetchie, ties to the newspaper business stretch back to her student days at Carleton College, where she worked as a reporter, news editor and managing editor for the Carletonian. She earned her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 2002, before spending four years at Bingham LLP in California and representing Fortune 500 companies.
But she knew she wanted to do something more with her career. She thought back to those chats with her grandfather and his work protecting free speech and press freedoms.
She moved to Nevada in 2007 after accepting a job as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, where she earned support from groups ranging from the Gun Owners of Nevada to the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Since she left the ACLU in 2011, her work in private practice has hardly been private.
She’s battled in court with the Clark County district attorney’s office, Las Vegas police, the city of Henderson, the school district and many other political heavyweights on behalf of the Review-Journal, The Associated Press and other news organizations.
“The media plays an incredibly important role in protecting our democracy,” McLetchie said. “They do reporting on local government and state government, which plays a really big role in people’s day-to-day lives. It’s important that we have media outlets and reporters able to do their jobs and get information about government accountability issues, like how their tax dollars are being spent and whether governments are doing the right thing.”